A performance of unpredictable duration

by Eric Andersen

The audience is invited in to take seats along one long wall of a gym. The floor of the gym is set up as a stage divided into two halves by a tennis net. One half is full of all sorts of sports apparatus, in the other half chairs are arranged in a square with room for 25 by 25 people = 625 people, all facing backwards. Opposite the audience is a red stage curtain.

Lighting: The room is fully lit, with spots directed at a red stage curtain. All the lights are then switched off. The lighting behind the stage curtain comes full on, with vertical spots from the stage ceiling.

The stage curtain sweeps open to reveal a person, two tables, sound equipment, a photocopier, piles of books, magazines and clippings, a chair and in addition, two flights of stairs from the gym floor to the stage. What was previously the stage (the gym floor) now becomes a barrier. ”The stage” is now at eye level and becomes an object to be watched but not possessed.

As imagery, the stage is enhanced by two powerful spots which add to its illumination of the stage apart from the stage’s own lighting. However, a side-effect of this lighting is that the spots dimly light up the previous stage: the barrier.

The audience is actively engaged in the performance, moving around eyeballs, lenses and pupils. The person on stage allows the audience to choose between practically every musical genre as a musical backdrop for the performance. A vote is cast by a show of hands. Everyone can vote for more than one piece of music. The voting continues until one piece of music has been selected. It is possible for the performance to come to a halt already at this point if the vote does not lead to a selection. When a piece of music has been selected quite another piece is played as the musical backdrop.

The person on stage asks one member (but no one in particular) of the audience to approach the stage along the tennis net from the seats. An assistant follows the audience person (AP) along the way and up one of the stairs to the stage. The AP sits down on the empty chair. The conversation between the audience person (AP) and the stage person (SP) can not be heard by others.

SP chooses a text for AP, which may be a factual account, a user guide, an anecdote, a short story, a poem. The text is photocopied and given to AP with the instruction that AP must learn the text by heart and not show it or retell it to nobody in the gym.

AP leaves the stage by the other set of stairs to the part of the gym floor where numerous sports apparatus are placed. AP walks around with the text trying to memorize it. The part of the gym floor where the APs walk about learning their text is relatively weakly lit - equivalent to reading light. 
The other half of the floor remains in darkness. Two people are rearranging the chairs, transforming the seating arrangement into a square with the precise number of chairs needed to seat all APs in the gym. Their work is noisy and technically demanding.

This process continues until all APs are in the same part of the gym. Everyone, with the exception of one AP (the one on stage) is in principle left to his or her own devices.

The SP and the assistant perform mechanical service functions, and the chair technicians attend to their own problems. The APs may well be able to talk to each other, dance the tango, sing national anthems; use the gym apparatus as they please - do whatever they feel like really. But this does not alter the fact that they are left completely to their own devices.
The wandering about and stage briefing process is extremely long-winded. Every AP spends an average of 2 minutes. 60 APs will take approximately 2 hours and 625 APs about 21 hours leaving a considerable amount of time to memorization and innumerable possibilities for the performance to be extended or come to a halt.

The audience in the surrounding seats are actually in control of the performance; if the majority of the audience or all of them were to get up leave the gym, the performance would be correspondingly shorter. People are free to come and go as they please. However, APs who have been given texts are asked to stay in the apparatus area. The two chair technicians continually adjust the number of chairs in the square.
When all those present have received texts for memorization, the light above the square of chairs in the other half of the gym is switched on. All other light in the gym is switched off. The APs are asked to sit down on the chairs and relate their own text or other people’s texts (after listening to them) to one of their neighbours in the chair quadrant.
The texts wander through the chair quadrant until no more APs want to retell their own or others’ texts.

All the lights are switched on and the performance is over.
The performance is a blueprint, realisation of which renders it invisible. Its duration is indeterminate. The performance can perhaps be brought to its conclusion, although this is by no means certain.

There is no audience, no stage and no performer although at times these components may be observed. Even the classic dramatic lighting seems to become ordinary utility or guide lighting. The event appears as an everyday necessity and you find yourself waiting for it to start raining so you can unfurl an umbrella or a button will fall of so you can sew it back on in another place.  

Eric Andersen, July 6th 1989